Five land activists were arrested yesterday in the capital’s Tuol Kork district for taking part in the second week of the “Black Monday” campaign for the release of detained civil society members, though the majority of rights groups and NGOs refrained from demonstrating publicly.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Khoung Sreng said the five – Phork Sophin, Ngov Nary and Yin Srin, from Borei Keila; Srey Touch, from Boeung Kak; and airport development activist Chray Nim – were picked up outside the Chenla Theater and taken to the district’s police station for protesting illegally.
“They have freedom to express an opinion, but they have to inform the authorities [about a protest] according to the law on peaceful demonstration,” said Sreng. “Police only detained them for questioning.”
Three of the five activists were released last night after thumb-printing an agreement not to gather in public or dress in black on Mondays. Touch and Nim were released later after thumb-printing a revised agreement.
On Monday, May 9, supporters dressed in black planned to protest near Prey Sar prison, but police intervened and eight, including two foreign NGO consultants, were detained and released.
After last last week’s “Black Monday” arrests, government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, called the campaign a colour revolution – typically a reference to non-violent popular movements in the former Soviet bloc.
At Boeung Kak village yesterday, a separate group of 30 activists held another small protest which was heavily monitored by a police contingent who prevented the group from leaving the vicinity.
Bov Sorphea, a participant in the protest, said they decided to continue their protest in the community given that they weren’t allowed to leave, and dismissed claims by the government that they were orchestrating a colour revolution.
“The government accusing us of setting up a colour revolution is a shame because they are accusing their own people,” she said. “In fact, we have no intention to topple the government.”
Meanwhile, rights groups and NGOs continued the campaign online, taking to social media to post pictures of their staffers wearing black and holding messages of support for the four detained human rights staffers and one election official.
Licadho director Naly Pilorge said the campaign had taken a new form with different groups using their own ways to show solidarity. While only a few land activists protested in the streets, she said the campaign had spread beyond the 100 or so people last week to many more.
“Other groups and unions have been posting online from Cambodia, the region and other countries wearing black and using signs or short videos with their message,” she said.
While some civil society members last week said that Hun Sen raising the possibility of a royal pardon for the five arrestees lead them to scale down their planned protests, Naly said it was also out of respect to the families, even though it was still uncertain if they would get a pardon or even a reduced sentence.
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga